Daily Oscillations Are Keeping Me Sharper and More Energized

Every day, I have a few simple rules that keep me sharp and energized while I work. (And leave me feeling better-resourced at the end of the day while transitioning to other areas of life.)

Here are the rules:

1 – Work in large time blocks. On one thing at a time.

2 – Don’t sit continuously for longer than 20 minutes in a row. I have fun with 1,000 seconds—aka 16 minutes and 40 sends.

3 – Don’t work continuously for longer than 2 hours. And take a solid, rejuvenating break right after each block.

I’ll share more about each of them real quick.

First, there’s the time blocks. This one’s pretty simple: multitasking is a myth and we are way more effective while focusing on ONE thing at a time. Put the phone away, keep notifications off, and focus intensely on the #1 most important thing you could do. To track this, I use a little app on my Mac called Timey 3, and use the stopwatch timer to track the length of a given deep work time block.

Then, there’s the micro-oscillations (aka not sitting for longer than 20 minutes). There’s compelling research out of NASA—which Dr. Joan Vernikos talks about in her book Sitting Kills, Moving Heals—that shows how sitting for longer than 20 minutes at a time changes the physiological expression of our bodies in ways that mimic being in zero-gravity in space. Which…deteriorates our physical capacities. The short story: sitting continuously for too long saps our vitality and depletes our wellbeing.

So…to not fall into that trap, I set a timer on my Apple Watch that reminds me to stand up and move. Inspired by Brian, I have fun playing with a 1,000 second timer (aka 16 minutes and 40 seconds). Whenever it goes off, I stand up and do 10 reps of a given movement. (Squats, lunges, burpees, …basic stuff to get my body and blood-flow moving.)

And last, there’s the 2 hour time cap. After about 90-120 minutes, our ability to maintain our performance diminishes. This is because of something called Ultradian Rhythms—which are natural energy cycles in our body that rises and fall throughout the day. 

(Note1: You know circadian rhythms? That’s from the Latin circa + dia which means “around a day” or “about a day”. Ultradian comes from ultra + dia meaning “beyond a day” or “multiple times in a day”.) 

(Note2: You know how REM cycles in sleep last around 90 minutes? That’s one expression of our Ultradian Rhythms in action.)

Ok, but even if we didn’t know what ultradian rhythms are, more simply speaking, I can tell that after 90-120 minutes, I’m simply no longer capable of doing my best work. So…once my Timey 3 counter gets to 2 hours, I pause it, and head outside for a ~11-minute walk.

As a result of these oscillations, I’m finding myself better resourced throughout the entire day. I’m capable of doing better work and also ending the workday without being so depleted. Which means I have more to give to other areas of life.

Now…there’s more that goes into the energy management equation than this. And I’ll continue to share more about this space in the future.

But for now, take a minute to check in with yourself:

1 – Are you working in focused time blocks on one thing at a time? Are you eliminating distractions? Are you prioritizing what’s most important?

2 – Are you sitting for long periods of time without getting up? 

3 – Are you working for longer than 2 hours straight through without a rejuvenating break?

It’s also important to note that there’s usually a little part of me that doesn’t want to do any of this. They want to multitask and get distracted. They don’t want to do lunges when my timer goes off. And they just want to keep working instead of taking a walk when I’ve reached the 2 hours mark.

In the moment, these choices don’t feel like a big deal. (And in a certain sense, one by itself isn’t that big of a deal.)

But… aggregated and compounded throughout the day, they become a VERY big deal.

The little things are the big things.

The way we approach the moments of our days determines how we experience the wholeness of our lives.

So…when the little voice protests to getting up and moving, I remember that Feelings Follow Behavior, and I get up and do it anyway.

Hope you have an epic week.

Big hugs + high-fives,

More from Mindful Ambition

  1. The Work Wins Checklist: How to Crush it at Work (But Only Every Day)
  2. Energy Management 101: How to Live With Increased Vitality
  3. Feelings Follow Behavior: The Key to Unlocking New Habits